Understanding Jewelry Hallmarks

By on 01/09/2014

Precious metal jewelry is often stamped with hallmarks or quality marks that divulge the producer of the piece along with the metal purity and some other details. It is very important for both jewelry buyers and sellers to understand the characteristic hallmarks so as to have a better understanding of what they are dealing with.

History of Hallmarks 

Quality marks or hallmarks were first used in ancient Egypt when precious metal ingots were stamped with purity symbols.

During the middle ages, in Europe, the royal decrees led to the implementation and acceptance of the practice called ‘hallmarking’. A group of nineteen goldsmiths purchased a property in Foster Lane, in Central London and received their first royal charter. The determined group went from shop to shop to test the gold and silver jewelry items of goldsmiths surrounding their area. In 1478, as the number of goldsmiths was increasing, they were asked to bring their goods to the ‘Goldsmiths Hall’ to be tested. This is where the term ‘hallmarking’ was originated.

Hallmarking in Great Britain continued to expand the assay offices all around the country and was able to introduce duty marks in 1784. While the taxing of precious metals stopped in 1890, the hallmarking continued and became one of the oldest examples of consumer protection as well as being a legal prerequisite.

In the United States of America, hallmarking dates to 1814. In 1906, the NGSSA (abbreviation for: National Gold and Silver Stamping Act) set a strict standard of marking precious metal purity. The act also stressed on hallmarking every precious jewelry items sold in US along with the manufacturer’s trademark.

antique-jewelry-hallmarksThe picture on the left is a typical example of hallmark jewelry. All the individual stamps have their own unique meaning:

  • Sponsor or Maker’s Mark: LAO is the maker’s or manufacturer’s mark.
  • Traditional Fineness Mark: The Crown is a standard mark, which officially states that the precious metal is gold and meets industry standards.
  • Millesimal Fineness Mark: 750 is the purity mark and is equivalent to 18-karat.
  • Assay Office Mark: Where was it marked? The lion’s head represents the jewelry identifying or certifying office.
  • Date Letter: When was it marked? This is the year the item was tested or the year of hallmarking.

Traditionally, hallmarked jewelry in Great Britain comprised of five component marks (explained above). However, out of these the second and fifth or the traditional fineness mark and date letter are no more compulsory. Jewelry in this part of the world does not have to have five stamps on their jewelry anymore. However, London jewelers still prefer to apply all five components as it maintains the tradition.

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